Is your thinking hindering your relationships?
It’s been six whole hours since I sent that text.
Why haven't they responded?
What’s their deal?
Was it something I said?
I totally blew this.
Unfriended, blocked, ghosted, you name it, baby I’ve got it.
Through the eyes of a therapist, a lot is going on here. Let’s break it down and talk about cognitive distortions.
Cognitive distortions are limited thinking patterns. Distorted thoughts are often highly inaccurate, grossly exaggerated, borderline irrational, and can be extremely self-damaging to your relationships. Check out the list below for some common examples.
1) Filtering: Do you often focus on negative details while ignoring any positive aspects of an event or situation? If so, you are a textbook FILTERER.
2) Polarized Thinking: Do you only see the world in black and white? Good or bad? You are either perfect or you are a failure—there is no middle ground and absolutely no room for mistakes. If so, you are a classic POLARIZED THINKER.
3) Overgeneralizing: Do you reach a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence? Do you exaggerate the frequency of your problems and negatively view most situations? If so, you are an OVERGENERALIZER.
4) Mind Reading: Do you always know what people are thinking and feeling about you? If so, you are a marvellous MIND READER.
5) Catastrophizing: Do you expect disaster at every turn? Do you frequently start sentences with ‘what if…’? Sorry to break it to you, but you are a CATASTROPHIZER.
6) Magnifying: Do you exaggerate the intensity of your problems and turn up the negativity dial on anything bad in your life? If so, you are a MAGNIFIER.
7) Personalization: Do you assume that what people do or say is often a reaction to you? Do you constantly compare yourself to others? If so, you are a typical PERSONALIZER.
8) Shoulds: Do you have a list of rigid, self-imposed rules about how you and others should act? Do people who break your rules anger you? Do you feel guilty when you violate these rules? Oh please, stop shoulding yourself already!
If you experience some, many, or all of these cognitive distortions, then I have some good news for you: These are completely normal thought patterns that many of us experience on a daily basis. If you feel that these limited thinking patterns are negatively impacting your relationships, you’re not alone.
The first step is self-awareness.
By first recognizing cognitive distortions when they happen, you can work to change them. You also have plenty of options from mental health professionals. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can work to mitigate the presence of these thoughts and help you develop strategies to recognize and squash them when they arise. Likewise, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)—which focuses on mindfulness, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness—can help you regulate your emotions when these troubling thoughts keep weighing you down. At Relationship Matters Therapy Centre, we have therapists trained in these models - which may help address some of these cognitive distortions and improve your overall wellbeing.
The author would like to thank Dr. Daniel Rzondzinski at Martin Luther University College for orally sharing his clinical wisdom regarding cognitive distortions, which served as an inspiration for this blog post.